The European Union will support all initiatives for Afghanistan’s Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport to be opened, the bloc’s ambassador to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, said, as Ankara has stepped up efforts to contribute to the functioning of the airport.
Speaking to Daily Sabah during a visit to western Izmir province, Meyer-Landrut underlined that the airport is “critical” for the country in many respects.
“Everything that allows the airport to be opened and allow this critical function to be exercised are of course welcomed,” he said.
“In this sense, the European Union of course welcomes the efforts Turkey is undertaking,” Meyer-Landrut highlighted.
Turkey has been holding talks with the Taliban in Kabul, where it still has a diplomatic presence, about the conditions under which it could help operate the Afghan capital's airport.
The Taliban recently declared the war in Afghanistan over after taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul, forcing Western nations to scramble to evacuate their citizens amid chaos at Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport as frantic Afghans searched for a way out.
It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for two decades and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.
With the Taliban in possession of Kabul's airport after the U.S. completed its withdrawal on Aug. 31, the focus will now shift from the mammoth Western evacuation operation seen in the past two weeks to the group's future plans for the transport hub.
Turkey had offered to run security following the withdrawal of foreign troops, but the Taliban repeatedly said it would not accept any foreign military presence in Afghanistan after Aug. 31.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey was still assessing the group's offer, but the Taliban still insisted on controlling security.
The Taliban have insisted they want to keep the civilian airport open, but without guarantees over security, commercial airlines simply would not operate out of Kabul.
Apart from the Taliban, Turkey is also in talks with the U.S. and Qatar, which also offered assistance. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey was working with Qatar and the U.S. on the terms under which the airport could reopen to regular flights needed to deliver humanitarian aid, evacuate stranded civilians and re-establish diplomatic missions in Kabul.
But he said security remained a key sticking point, stressing that commercial flights could never resume until airlines – and their insurers – felt that conditions were sufficiently safe.
"In my view, the Taliban or Afghan forces could ensure security outside the airport," Çavuşoğlu said.
"But inside, there could be a security company trusted by the international community or all other companies," he said.
"Even if airlines, including Turkish Airlines, are keen to fly there, insurance companies would not allow it."
Attacks in the past week have shown the airport is a target for terrorists, so security is the primary concern.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also voiced doubt on leaving the airport’s security to the Taliban. He said Turkey was still assessing the group's offer, but the Taliban is still insisting on controlling security.
"Let's say you took over the security, but how would we explain to the world if another bloodbath takes place there?" Erdoğan said.
“I understand that these talks have not yet come to a conclusion. There are still issues, in particular security issues, which need to be addressed. These need to be addressed with those who are in power in Afghanistan,” Meyer-Landrut stated further.
Since 2002, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have operated in Afghanistan under the United Nations, NATO and bilateral agreements to contribute to the peace, welfare and stability of the Afghan people. Turkey had more than 500 noncombatant troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s now-abandoned mission in the war-torn country. Turkey has been in Afghanistan in a noncombatant role for two decades and has been involved in consultancy efforts, reconstruction and maintenance. It has been operating the airport for six years.
Technical experts from Qatar and Turkey have begun repairs, though it’s not clear when the airport will be up and running.
Keeping the airport open after foreign forces hand over control is vital not just for Afghanistan to stay connected to the world but to maintain aid supplies and operations.
The Taliban victory in Afghanistan has not led to a dramatic refugee exodus but the country urgently needs humanitarian aid to prevent economic collapse and major upheaval, according to the U.N.
Half a million people had been displaced within Afghanistan in recent months, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi said, a number which would grow if health services, schools and the economy break down.
Even before the Taliban launched its final push to seize control, 3 million Afghans were already displaced in a country struggling with drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, and where nearly half the population was receiving some form of aid.
The UNHCR said two weeks ago that up to half a million Afghans could leave their homeland by the end of the year in a worst-case scenario.
Being asked if there was any cooperation between Turkey and the EU on humanitarian assistance in the war-torn country, Meyer-Landrut said: “We have explained to the Turkish authorities that the European Union has announced that it will increase by four times its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan by the end of the leave, bringing it to more than 200 billion euros ($236 billion).”
He said that the vector of this humanitarian assistance will be to the largest extent provided by U.N. organizations.
“We share the analysis of Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu that it is now critical to bring assistance to the people of Afghanistan as quickly as possible,” he added.
Çavuşoğlu told a live broadcast on NTV recently that the best way to solve the Afghan migrant crisis is to solve the conflict domestically to ensure that people are not forced to leave their homes.
Some 570,000 people migrated in the past year, while 3 million fled Afghanistan in 2020, Çavuşoğlu said, adding that economic problems were the main reason behind the migrations. He said it is crucial to also provide assistance to neighboring countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.